Bad enough for Congress to meddle in adoptions in hopes of helping out Indian tribes. But…burials? My new guest column at Jurist examines the first-of-its-kind lawsuit by which some descendants of Native American sports great Jim Thorpe are trying to use the law to require the borough of Jim Thorpe, Pa. to yield up his remains for re-interment in Oklahoma. It concludes:
In a nation where people regularly fall in love across ethnic lines, laws that assign rights differentially to some members of families based on descent or tribal affiliation are especially hard to justify under US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. … Say what you will about the Third Circuit’s reasoning, it at least postpones the day when tribal enmities extend into our very cemeteries, and even the dead cannot escape counting based on race.
Earlier on the Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe controversy; on NAGPRA and science, and the Kennewick Man affair, etc.
Now this is welcome: the New York Times (via Ronald Bailey) has a column by George Johnson jumping off from the question of whether locating a giant telescope on Mauna Kea would unfairly desecrate the religious and ancestral heritage of (some) native Hawaiians. Johnson notes:
While biblical creationists opposing the teaching of evolution have been turned back in case after case, American Indian tribes have succeeded in using their own religious beliefs and a federal law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to empty archaeological museums of ancestral bones — including ones so ancient that they have no demonstrable connection to the tribe demanding their reburial. The most radical among them refuse to bow to a science they don’t consider their own. A few even share a disbelief in evolution, professing to take literally old myths in which the first people crawled out of a hole in the ground.
In this turn back toward the dark ages, it is not just skeletal remains that are being surrendered. Under the federal law, many ceremonial artifacts are also up for grabs. While some archaeologists lament the loss of scientific information, Indian creationism is tolerated out of a sense of guilt over past wrongdoings.
Even some scientists bow and go along in the spirit of reparations, while admitting the loss to human inquiry and future knowledge. Earlier on NAGPRA and the Kennewick Man controversy here, here, etc.
The U.S. government was intent on “repatriating” the ancient remains of Kennewick Man for burial to Indian tribes in compliance with the perceived spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), though any relation between those remains and current tribes is at best notional. The U.S. Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers had thrown their full weight on the side of immediate burial, even threatening criminal charges against individual scientists who insisted on litigating the case. “If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.” Fortunately, scientists won in the end, leaving the “most important human skeleton ever found in North America” finally free to disclose his secrets. [Smithsonian, earlier]
P.S. Welcome Popehat readers (“Science in the Hands of Angry Liberal Arts Majors”). And as several commenters point out, my summary above overstates the extent to which scientists actually prevailed, since the U.S. government continues to fight tenaciously to prevent further testing of the remains, and reportedly dumped a thousand tons of fill on the discovery site early on in case it hadn’t made its stance clear.
Now that we’ll be canceling trademarks of sports teams with disparaging names, here’s one that got away. [Washington Post]
I’ve got a write-up at Cato at Liberty about the federal government’s massive, SWAT-like occupation of the rural Indiana property of Don Miller, a celebrated 91-year-old local collector who has traveled the globe and whose impressive collection of world and Indian artifacts “was featured in a four part series in the Rushville Republican.” Under various treaties and federal laws, mostly dating to relatively recent times, the federal government now deems ownership of many antiquities and Native American artifacts to be unlawful even if collectors acquired them in good faith before laws changed. [WISH (TV), Indianapolis Star, The Blaze.] More: coverage in two more outlets with a flavor very different from each other, Shelby County News (FBI source stresses Miller’s cooperativeness and suggests federal actions were wtih his consent or even at his behest) and National Public Radio (“seized,” “confiscated”)
Related: Richard Epstein at Hoover on Obama Administration plans to prohibit selling your family’s vintage piano or moving it across a state line. And aside from ivory chess sets, the nascent War on Antiques might take a toll of replica firearms [Washington Times]
Following an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, the youngster has been handed over to adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco, which most likely spells an end to the legal ordeal [CNN, earlier]
Meanwhile, in yet another indication that propositions that are controversial in the rest of the country are uncontroversial in the American Bar Association, the ABA last month endorsed a resolution (PDF) calling for “full compliance” with, and in general uncritically endorsing the operation of, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978; reportedly, no dissenting voice was raised.
The New Republic, meanwhile, gives favorable ink to what it calls the “new anti-adoption movement.” While adoption poses plenty of genuine and difficult ethical and policy issues that deserve a full airing (and even the occasional train wreck at its far fringes; reactions here (PDF), here) sloganeering about “reproductive justice” and intimations of false consciousness (“subtle brainwashing”) on the part of birthmothers who choose adoptive homes for their children are likely to obscure the good that adoption can do [Balding/Yan, SSRN via @tylercowen]
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, who is also a University of Arizona law professor, weighs in on the tribal side in Baby Veronica case [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, earlier] Last year we discussed Mr. Anaya’s scolding of the U.S. government on Indian land claim issues. Just last week another official in the U.N. human rights apparatus upbraided the United States for hesitating to expose acquitted George Zimmerman to double jeopardy in the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, birthdad Dusten Brown says he “will not voluntarily” return Baby Veronica to adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and the Cherokee tribe has unfortunately given encouragement to his stance [Tulsa World, Michael Schearer, SCOTUSBlog (high court refuses to block adoption)] “Before the hearing [in Tahlequah, Okla.], Cherokee County sheriff’s officials ordered a Tulsa World reporter to leave the third floor of the courthouse, where the hearing was to be held. The Sheriff’s Office then closed the entire courthouse to reporters, yet members of the public were allowed access to the building.” [Tulsa World] Following threats of arrest and pressure from the governor of Oklahoma, Brown has now entered mediation with the Capobiancos [Tulsa World, more coverage]
Meanwhile, although defenders of the Indian Child Welfare Act have tended to applaud its elevation of tribal interests over the best interests of actual children, the Native American Rights Fund, revealing a newfound enthusiasm for the latter, has filed a suit purportedly on Veronica’s behalf arguing that her best interests are not being taken into account in the adoption. And the girl’s biological mother, Christy Maldonado, has announced plans to file a suit asking for parts of the Indian Child Welfare Act to be struck down as unconstitutional. [Associated Press/WCIV, Indian Country Today]
P.S. I do not rush to blame Mr. Brown, who, even if erring, is erring as many of the rest of us would. I do blame the Cherokee authorities, Native American Rights Fund, and others for irresponsibly egging him on as they stake out a maximalist position on behalf of a bad law.